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Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No.

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic?

The Islamic College, London, UK

ABSTRACT: Hisham ibn al-Hakam is an iconic figure in the

development of Twelver Shiism. In classical Shia sources, he is a
loyal disciple of the Imams Jafar al-Sadiq and Musa al-Kazim. An
avid polemicist, he is credited with being one of the earliest Shia
mutakallimin and the first to introduce the subject of the imamate
to theological debates. In non-Shia sources, he is the arch-heretic;
the source of all of the Shias erroneous beliefs. An interesting
ascription to him is belief in anthropomorphism (tajsim), which
appears in heresiographical works and has been uncritically
repeated by modern scholars. This paper sets out to challenge the
origins of this ascription and against a broader backdrop of intra-
Shia criticism of Hisham explore what this tells us about the
relative importance he enjoys in shaping Shiism.

KEYWORDS: anthropomorphism (tajsim); Hisham ibn al-Hakam;

kalam; ilm al-rijal; early Shiism.

Hisham ibn al-Hakam is overwhelmingly portrayed by the Shia
biographical literature as a close companion, loyal disciple, and
outstanding student of Jafar al-Sadiq and Musa al-Kazim. An avid
polemicist, he is credited with being one of the earliest Shia
mutakallimin (theologians) and the first to introduce the subject of the
imamate to theological debates. By the time of his death, he had a
substantial following. However, he is portrayed in non-Shia sources as
an arch-heretic, responsible for all the erroneous beliefs of the Shia and
a proponent of anthropomorphism (tajsim). So far, while
acknowledging his importance, most academic literature has
uncritically accepted the latter portrayal of Hisham, without attempting
to understand the origin of such reports about him. This paper looks at

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

the sources of information about Hishams life and, through critical

analysis, attempts to reconcile the two vastly different images later
ascribed to him.
There has been little academic literature published on Hisham ibn
al-Hakam. The main article, to which almost all later scholars have
referred to on the subject of Hisham, is that of Madelung in the
Encylopedia of Islam. 1 His assessment of Hishams beliefs seems to be
based on an uncritical reading of the biographical dictionaries and
heresiographies of the classical period. According to Madelung, Hisham
believed in a moderate form of anthropomorphism as well as a host of
other heterodox beliefs. Ayoub, 2 Abrahamov, 3 Kohlberg, 4 Bayhom-
Daou,5 and Modarressi6 appear to base their understanding of Hisham
on Madelungs article. There are some traditions in the early Shia
biographical dictionaries that would seem to support the ascription of
these views to Hisham, but no serious analysis of their sources appears
to have taken place. This paper will consider the theological views and
importance of Hisham based on the material he is supposed to have
narrated from Jafar al-Sadiq and Musa al-Kazim in the Shia Hadith
literature and the portrayal of him in the works of both Shia and non-
Shia scholars of the classical period. Special attention will also be paid
to the sources of the information concerning him: we will be looking
for clusters of sources that appear to share a common element (and
therefore a common agenda) for their portrayal of him.

Hishams Life
Details about Hishams life are not entirely clear. It appears he was born
either in Kufa (according to al-Najashi) or Wasit (according to al-
Kashshi),7 although some have claimed was originally from Baghdad.8
He was a client (mawla) of either the Bani Shayban9 or the Kindah10
tribes. He spent time both in Kufa with the Bani Shayban 11 and in
Karkh, Baghdad 12 and appears to have had some sort of business
dealings in the latter.13 We are told that Hisham became a disciple of
Jafar al-Sadiq at a young age and went on to serve his son, Musa al-
Kazim.14 His death is also a matter of dispute: according to al-Najashi,
he died in Qasr Waddah in Baghdad 199/815,15 whereas al-Tusi says he
died shortly after the downfall of the Barmakid family of viziers 16
(187/803) having spent a short period in hiding (because of his own
associations with them), although al-Tusi acknowledges that others say
he died during the reign of Mamun (after 197/813).17 According to al-

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

Kashshi, he died during the reign of Rashid in 179/795.18

Hisham lived during an important juncture in the history of Islamic
thought. The classical legal and theological schools were in their
infancy and Hisham it would appear was involved in disputations
with their founders. He lived before the Mutazilite inquisition of
218/833 and before the rise of the Hanbalites and Asharites. During his
time, there would have been Kharijites, Kaysanites, Mutazilites,
Qadarites, Jabarites, and a host of other theologically aligned groups
active. There were also the Ghulat19 and the Waqifites20 who represented
heterodox positions within Shiism. In this milieu, Hisham
(fortunately, for him) a capable theologian and debater made his
name as one of the founders of Shia orthodoxy.
Before becoming a disciple of al-Sadiq, we are told that Hisham
already had a rich theological background. He was a student of Abu
Shakir (Abd al-Ala ibn Zaid), a companion of Jafar al-Sadiq21 who is
described as an atheist (zindiq). 22 According to his uncle, Umar ibn
Yazid, Hisham was a Jahmite23 who originally asked to be introduced to
al-Sadiq so that he could engage in disputation (munazarah) with him.
In the course of these discussions Hisham was apparently confounded
by a question posed to him by al-Sadiq and so he asked to defer the
discussion and then took many days to come up with an answer. When
Hisham returned, the discussion continued until he left again, grieved
(mughtamm) and bewildered (mutahayyar) by another one of al-Sadiqs
questions. In a third and final meeting, Hisham found himself awed
into silence by al-Sadiq and later became his disciple.24 Given the fact
that many of Hishams famous debates as a proponent of Shia doctrine
are alleged to have taken place when he was a young man, it would seem
that this meeting took place at a very young age.
According to Shia sources, al-Sadiq almost instantly recognised the
potential of Hisham as an able student and propagator of his
doctrines. 25 He seems to have treated him preferentially to other
disciples, describing him as our helper (nasir) with his heart, tongue,
and hand and as a fine example of how to engage in kalam.26 He also
took great pride in Hishams achievements, and on at least one
occasion asked Hisham to recount the details of a particularly
momentous debate to the other disciples.27 Hisham was also entrusted
by al-Sadiq to teach new converts the doctrines of the Shia creed. 28
Later, al-Kazim entrusted Hisham with taking care of some of his
personal matters for him.29 He also requested that Hisham write on
his behalf a refutation of the Qadirites.30 These narrations give the

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

impression that Hisham occupied a trusted and valued position beside

the Imam. As we shall see later, this may have contributed to feelings of
jealousy amongst other companions of the Imams and motivated them
to instigate rumours against him.
Hisham is recorded as having authored several manuscripts. Some of
these appear to be on legal issues (such as duties, prohibitions, and
semiotics), but the vast majority of them are concerned with theological
issues, especially rebuttals (radd). Those of a polemical nature include
refutations of the atheists (zanadiqah), dualists (ashab al-ithnayn), and
Mutazilites (with regard to Talhah and Zubair). He also devotes books
to the imamate, wasiyyah (of the Prophet), free will (jabr) and
determinism (qadr), ability (istitaah), and Gods oneness.31
Hisham was very active in his defence of the Shia school. In the
course of his career he engaged in debates with many well-known
scholars such as Abdullah ibn Yazid al-Ibadi, 32 Dirar ibn Amr al-
Dibbi, 33 Amr ibn Ubayd, 34 Abu Ubaydah al-Mutazili, 35 and al-
Nazzam. 36 He also frequented the gatherings of Yahya ibn Khalid al-
Barmaki. 37 The majority of his debates which have been documented
were with the early Mutazilites. But his polemical writings suggest he
was also engaged in debates with the Qadarites, Jabarites, atheists,
dualists, and Shia.38 The main subject of his recorded debates is usually
connected to the imamate. Hisham seems to have relied on the
approach of reversing the arguments of his opponents so that they seem
support his viewpoint on a particular issue.39 However, his debates also
landed him in trouble on more than one occasion, and it has even been
suggested that they may have contributed to the arrest and
imprisonment of al-Kazim.40
Hishams importance was recognised both by his contemporaries
and by later Imams and their disciples. Upon learning of his death, Ali
ibn Ismail al-Maythami is supposed to have said: He was our support
(adud) and our shaykh.41 Hisham seems to have been a role model for
later Shia theologians. Fadl ibn Shadhan 42 describes himself as
someone who refutes those who disagree [with us] in the fashion of
Hisham ibn al-Hakam. 43 Elsewhere, Nuh ibn Shuayb warns people
against following a scholar from Khurasan who thinks himself greater
(akbar) than Hisham ibn al-Hakam.44 The implication is, of course, that
no one is greater than Hisham! It is not surprising, then, that his
followers formed a distinct school within Shiism.45 Evidence for this
can be found when a man asked Ali ibn Musa al-Rida about a technical
dispute between the followers of Hisham and those of Zurarah ibn

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

Ayan. 46 Elsewhere, al-Rida also instructs Abd al-Malik ibn Hisham

only to pay the zakat (alms tax) to those who agree with the views of
Hisham ibn al-Hakam. 47 Indeed, such was the popularity of Hisham
that on another occasion al-Rida rebuked someone who claimed to
follow the opinion (qawl) of Hisham; al-Rida retorted with the words:
Hisham is not one of us!48 In other words, Hisham is not a source of
authoritative knowledge (ilm) like the Imam and the Imams view must
be given precedence over his. All of this would seem to support the
traditional assessment of him as a pivotal figure in the genesis of
classical Shiism.49

Classical Views on Hisham

Almost all classical scholars are unanimous on the importance of
Hisham in the development of Shiism. Ibn al-Nadim describes him in
his Fihrist as a Shia mutakallim the first of them to deal with the
subject of the imamate in his kalam who shaped the Shia school
(madhhab) with his insight. He was skilful in his craft of kalam and
always had an answer. For example, he was asked: Was Muawiyyah at
[the Battle of] Badr?, to which he replied: Yes, on the other side [i.e.
fighting against the Prophet]. 50 Al-Tusi says Hisham was one of the
closest companions (khawass) of al-Sadiq and al-Kazim. Hisham also is
said to have produced one of the Four Hundred Usul. 51 These views
have remain largely unmodified down to the modern era and are
reproduced almost verbatim in Amins Ayan al-Shiah.52
Non-Shia heresiographers also see Hisham as the central figure in
Shiisms early stage. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani refers to him as the Shaykh
of the Rafidah and suggests that he was recognised as superior in rank
to Mumin al-Taq who was actually his senior as it was Hisham who
gave him this title.53 Claiming that it was done in his capacity as the
Shaykh of the Shia might suggest that al-Asqalani considers Hisham
more influential in shaping the sect than al-Sadiq himself. Of course,
this may simply be a result of Hishams infamy in Sunni circles and a
desire to disassociate Shiism from the Imams themselves (thereby
robbing it of its legitimacy). However, the fact that al-Asqalani is able
to suggest this shows how important Hisham is viewed in retrospect
both by Shia and Sunni scholars.
Both Sunni and Mutazilite authors ascribe a number of
unorthodox views to Hisham, and this appears to form the basis of the
modern understanding of him. Ibn Hajar accuses him of

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

anthropomorphism (specifically that God is the height of seven men),

that Gods knowledge of a thing does not exist before the thing exists
(i.e. it is muhdath),54 extreme predestination (jabr shadid), and accepting
the impossible (mahal) that any intelligent person (dhu aql) would
reject without hesitation. 55 These latter impossibilities may extend to
certain unusual miracles attributed to the Imams (which is what Ibn
Hazm would seem to suggest) or simply very poor kalam reasoning.56 In
addition to the above, the Mutazilites also accuse him of holding that
unbearable things (ma la yutaq) are not incumbent (ma yattasil bil-
taklif ) and denying Gods justice. 57 Qadi Abd al-Jabbar ascribed the
heretical views of the Shia to Hisham, who he alleges took them from
the aforementioned Abu Shakir. 58 It seems clear that the popular
estimation of Hisham in non-Shia circles was that he was an arch-
heretic. This is, of course, to be expected. And many of the views being
condemned are contained in the traditions narrated by Hisham (and
perhaps misunderstood or misconstrued) but are not considered
problematic by mainstream Twelver Shiism.59 What is unusual, though,
is the accusation of anthropomorphism, a belief neither sanctioned by
the Imams or the classical Shia theologians. What is even more unusual
is that this view of Hisham may have its roots in the circle of
companions that surrounded al-Sadiq and al-Kazim.

Criticism of Hisham within the Shia literature

Criticism of Hisham and the attribution of unorthodox beliefs to him
are not confined to later non-Shia sources. There are a number of
reports in the biographical literature, attributed to Shia sources
contemporary with Hisham, that portray him in a very negative light.
This is rather more surprising, as the later image of Hisham is that of a
devout student and defender of the Imams. Critically examining these
accounts may not establish which is historically accurate, but it will
shed light on divisions in the early Shia community as such material
would have probably been preserved by individuals hostile towards
Hisham and/or his students.
It is possible to place the sources critical of Hisham into two major
categories: firstly, those accounts that attribute anthropomorphism to
Hisham, and secondly, those that criticise him for his engagement in
excessive involvement in theological disputations (intimated as a cause
for the assassination of al-Kazim). Our examination of these reports
will look at both their content and their supposed sources (using the

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

chain of narrators, where provided).

The reports which accuse Hisham of anthropomorphism vary in
their level of detail. Some of these, such as that of Muhammad ibn al-
Hakim 60 and Muhammad ibn al-Faraj al-Rakhji, 61 simply state that
Hisham believed that God had a body ( jism) and ask the Imam for
clarification (these are usually after Hishams death, i.e. asking an Imam
from al-Rida onwards).62 Others include extra detail about his supposed
beliefs. Ali ibn Abu Hamzah63 tells al-Sadiq that he had heard Hisham
narrate that God is an eternal, luminous body (jism samadi nuri). 64
Yunus ibn Zibyan65 tells al-Sadiq that Hisham claims that God has a
body because only a body can be an agent (fail) and God must be an
agent in order to be a Creator (sani).66 Hasan ibn Abd al-Rahman al-
Hamani 67 told al-Rida that Hisham claimed God has a body which
nothing is like (laysa kamithlihi shay). 68 What these reports share in
common is the use of the attribution of a jism (body) to God. It seems
unlikely, however, that this is an accurate reflection of Hishams beliefs.
Firstly because he fails to narrate anything close to this from the Imams
themselves and had he wanted to support such a doctrine as a Shia69
he would have needed to show it was somehow derived from them.70
Another element these reports have in common is that a third-party is
attributing these beliefs to Hisham and seeking clarification from the
Imam (who sometimes rebukes Hisham very harshly). Hisham is never
seen to express them himself. This leaves open the possibility that they
have either misunderstood Hishams argument or they are consciously
misconstruing it to instigate the Imam against him or both.
Al-Sharif al-Murtada in his al-Shafi fi al-Imamah proposes exactly
such an origin for these accusations. Firstly, he highlights that a phrase
such as a body unlike other bodies (jismun la kal-ajsam), which
Hisham is supposed to have used,71 is merely a poor expression (ghalat fi
ibarah) of an otherwise valid concept. Alternatively, Hisham may have
said this in opposition (muaridah) to those Mutazilites who said: God
is a thing (shay) unlike other things. So Hisham argued that if it were
possible to say this, then they could not oppose anthropomorphism in
the sense of God being a body unlike other bodies. This goes back to
the classical theological manoeuvre whereby a scholar refutes the view
of another by showing that it leads to an unacceptable conclusion. Of
course, al-Murtada makes clear that this does not mean that Hisham
has to believe in this unacceptable conclusion, as one does not have to
believe in everything he asks it may be that [Hisham] wanted to
obtain their answer on this issue...or to show them the deficiency. It is

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

then a fault on the part of a listener who failed to comprehend

Hishams objective properly or who was attempting to misconstrue
what he actually said.72
Had Hisham actually believed in anthropomorphism, says al-
Murtada, then we find no excuse for him just as there is no excuse for
anyone else to believe such a thing. However, he maintains that no Shia
theologian has ever maintained Hisham has said such a thing he
ridicules any reasonable person who believes that God is the height of
seven men and that an accurate account of a sects beliefs must be
taken from the mouths of its advocates.73 In making such a caveat, al-
Murtada is well aware that the intention of his opponent is to discredit
the Shia by tarring one of their founders with heresy. Thus he deftly
makes the accusation a non-issue by maintaining the belief itself is
incorrect and reaffirming the authority of the living theologians as
exponents of the religion.
In substantiating al-Murtadas contention that this accusation has
only come from outsiders and not from the Shia themselves, it is
significant that many of the chains of these traditions contain narrators
who are either Waqifites or Ghulat. One chain contains both al-
Hamani, who was a student of Ali ibn al-Hamzah the Waqifite, and
Ali ibn al-Abbas the extremist. Ali ibn al-Hamzah was a contemporary
of Hisham, so he may have informed his student, al-Hamani, of
Hishams heterodoxy, who then passed this along to Ali ibn al-Abbas.
This does not mean that these three narrators colluded across
generations against Hisham; rather, it suggests that they all found it
convenient to accept and propagate a view of Hisham as unorthodox
and an unreliable source of doctrine. We can be certain that Hisham
true to his character would have been actively debating with Waqifites
(if he outlived al-Kazim), Ghulat, and even other mainstream Shia. His
students would have carried on this work after his death, and there were
many heated debates with the Waqifites after the death of al-Kazim
regarding the succession of al-Rida.74 This would constitute an excellent
motive for Waqifites like Ali ibn al-Hamzah to undermine Hishams
credibility and thereby weaken his arguments and the arguments of his
students against them. On this basis, al-Khui is quick to dismiss these
reports as weak,75 but the weakness of the chains does not guarantee the
falsity of the transmission. In fact, while we might doubt the content as
being authentically from the Imams just as we might equally doubt
any positive reports about Hisham as coming from them what it does
show is that such reports were widespread, which means that the

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

narrators found them useful. Judging from the sources of the reports of
his belief in anthropomorphism, the Ghulat and Waqifites seem likely
candidates for the dissemination of these reports. It is possible that
these accusations originated from non-Shia sources (such as the
Mutazilites) and were adopted by his opponents within the sect, but
there was clearly a sufficient degree of enmity felt towards Hisham in
some Shia circles to suggest that these came from within. This is
evinced by reports suggesting that Hishams theological disputations
were causing problems for al-Kazim and that these were at least partly
responsible for the latters imprisonment and murder. Abd al-Rahman
ibn al-Hajjaj76 says that the Imam, Musa al-Kazim, sent him to order
Hisham to refrain from kalam. Hisham stopped for a month before
returning to his debates. Abd al-Rahman heard of this and went back
to Hisham to remind him of al-Kazims directive. Hisham apparently
said someone like me does not desist from kalam. So al-Kazim then
sent him the message: Does it satisfy you to share in the shedding of a
Muslims blood? For you have shared in the shedding of mine! and
added: If he does not be silent, then he is [to me] like the one who
slaughters an animal. Yunus ibn Abd al-Rahman (a student of
Hisham), as if to counter the accusation, narrates the same story from
Hishams perspective, adding that the command to desist from kalam
was because of the political circumstances under the Caliph al-Mahdi
and not, as Abd al-Rahman has tried to portray, a general order to
desist from debating.77 There are actually a number of reports in which
Hisham is explicitly implicated in al-Kazims death and other reports
whose sole purpose is to absolve Hisham of any blame. Indeed, there
can be no doubt that the latter set of reports are a response to the
former, as they use almost exactly the same wording to defend Hisham
as the other reports used to censure him.78 Also in al-Kashshi, there is a
report that appears to be in praise of Hisham, but mentions his debates
as one of the causes (sabab min al-asbab) leading to the arrest of al-
Kazim. 79 This is not to say that these reports about Hisham are
historically accurate, however, merely that the accusation that he was
somehow responsible for al-Kazims end would have come first and the
reports absolving him of blame were a reaction to this. This shows that
there was significant polarisation around Hishams personality amongst
the Shia themselves.
There appears to have been a specific group of companions arrayed
against Hisham both during and after his life. Abd al-Rahman ibn al-
Hajjaj appears in another narration that appears to be critical of him.

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

This time Jafar ibn Muhammad ibn Hakim al-Jathami 80 says that a
group of prominent Shia mutakallimun which included Hisham and
Abd al-Rahman gathered together. Hisham and another mutakallim
seem to have started a theological debate, during the course of which
Abd al-Rahman interrupts and accuses Hisham of disbelief (kufr) and
deviation (ilhad). Apparently, so great was his distress that he felt it
necessary to write to al-Kazim for clarification on the views expressed
by Hisham. 81 In light of this, and the aforementioned tradition
concerning al-Kazims order to desist from kalam, it appears that Abd
al-Rahman was often involved in confrontations with Hisham. This
could suggest that the two of them however impeccable their
credentials are in the later biographical works were rivals who held
divergent views. In turn, it seems likely that Abd al-Rahman may have
been motivated by this to discredit Hisham by implicating him in the
death of al-Kazim or perhaps he genuinely believed him to be
responsible for it. This is supported by another report narrated by his
student, Yunus, that al-Rida called Hisham an upright servant (abd
nasih) but remarks that he was subject to jealousy (hasad) from other
The fierce disagreement surrounding the character of Hisham
indicates real divisions within the mainstream of the sect, and not
simply on the fringes (typified by the Ghulat and Waqifites). Clearly
there were mainstream Shia scholars, both of Hishams generation and
of later generations, that opposed him and were keen to censure and
discredit him. As we have seen, this was probably motivated partly by
some disagreements between them and Hisham on theological grounds
and partly by jealousy. The emergence of other reports with the clear
aim of rebutting the former indicates that Hishams students in
particular Yunus ibn Abd al-Rahman were keen to defend their
teacher and his doctrines. This is supported by a tradition in which
Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad was asked by Abu Ali al-Rashid83 if he
should pray behind Hishams followers (ashab). The Imam instructed
him to follow Ali ibn Hadid, 84 who refused to pray behind them.
Reliable or not, this tradition shows that the polarisation around
Hisham continued after his death and was serious enough to warrant a
faction within the Shia who would not pray behind his followers. If
there really were an identifiable school of Hisham then this too would
have encouraged the spreading of negative reports to discredit not only
the individual but also his later followers.
It is helpful if we view the reports about Hishams unorthodox

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

beliefs (like anthropomorphism) against this wider backdrop. Hishams

skill as a debater, his favoured position with the Imams, and his great
skill in crafting arguments (arguments which may not have always been
understood properly) seem to have generated sufficient enmity that his
opponents were ready to use any means necessary to undermine him.
But, as many opponents as he had, there were clearly those companions
who admired Hisham and were keen to rebut criticisms of him. This is
borne out by the volume of reports both praising and condemning
Hisham (often on the same issue) and shows that there were both those
who supported his views and others eager to discredit him, pointing to
a division within the early Shia.
With criticism of Hisham coming from within Shiism (that is, from
Hishams Shia opponents), it is easy to see how non-Shia
heresiographers were able to construe both him and his followers as a
distinct grouping. Constant references to the opinions and followers of
Hisham, coupled with his somewhat controversial status, made it easy
for them to be characterised as heretics. This seemed to have happened
quite early, as questions about Hisham are addressed to Imams al-Rida
and al-Jawad. This suggests two things: firstly that the students of
Hisham were still active and engaging in debates with other schools
within mainstream Shiism at the time and that these schools were
instigating rumours against them with these reports. Secondly, and
more likely given their widespread adoption in the non-Shia
heresiographies, other sects (such as the Mutazilites) probably viewed
Hisham as the founder of Shiism and therefore sought to attack his
credentials directly as a means of weakening the Shia position.
Therefore, the followers of the Imams came to them for clarification on
the views of Hisham in order to respond to their polemics.

Classical Twelver scholars use Hisham almost as a forerunner of their
own school of mainstream Shiism. Many reports portray him as being
a close and trusted companion of the Imams and an outstanding
student of their teachings (a perception he seems to have cultivated by
narrating some of their praise of him). It is clear that he played an
important role in the debates that were defining Shiism during the
formative period (second century AH) and formed a loyal following of
students who continued his school for several generations.
On the other hand, it seems that Hishams propensity for debating,

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

his precocious character, and the favours bestowed upon him by the
Imams from a young age, attracted jealousy from many of his co-
religionists, with whom he seemed to have a relationship of rivalry.
Indeed there are cases of open confrontation between him and another
companion (considered impeccable by later scholars). His skill in
debating also made him well known beyond the sect. These two factors
combined to provide an excellent motivation for his opponents to find
reports that ascribe heterodox views to Hisham as a means of
discrediting him.
It is plausible that his prominent role in debates (combined with the
obvious political danger of his ideas) drew attention to al-Kazim, but it
seems unlikely that he was the primary cause of his imprisonment,
especially since those reports that suggest this also say that he died
shortly after al-Kazim was imprisoned, which was a full four years
before al-Rashid had al-Kazim him assassinated. However, what is most
plausible is that the accusation of anthropomorphism seems like an
intentional misrepresentation of Hishams ideas intended to either
instigate the Imam against him or his followers or to discredit him as a
theologian, depending on who was making use of these allegations.
What is clear is that Hisham was important enough to warrant so
much ink being spilt over his character, both in terms of both
defamation and protection. Hishams significance extended well
beyond his lifetime. The fact that al-Murtada is compelled to respond
to accusations against Hisham shows the perception of the non-Shia
mutakallimun of al-Murtadas time. These non-Shia mutakallimun must
have held that Hisham was the founder of Shia kalam and they must
have believed, therefore, that Hisham was a primary target for their

Table of Key Transliterated Terms

Term Appearing in Text Arabic Term With Diacritics
Abd nasih Abd nsih
Adud Aud
Ashab al-ithnayn Ab al-ithnayn
Hisham ibn al-Hakam ishm ibn al-akam
Ghulat Ghult
Istitaah Istiah
Jafar al-Sadiq Jafar al-diq

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

Jism Jism
Jismun la kal-ajsam Jismun l kal-ajsm
Kalam Kalm
Khawass Khaw
Madhhab Madhhab
Mahal Mahl
Muaridah Muriah
Muhdath Muhdath
Ma la yutaq M l yuq
Ma yattasil bil-taklif M yattail bil-taklf
Mawla Mawl
Musa al-Kazim Ms al-Kim
Mutahayyar Mutahayyar
Mutakallim Mutakallim
Nasir Nasr
Qawl Qawl
Rafidah Rfidah
Sabab min al-asbab Sabab min al-asbb
Sani ni
Zanadiqah Zandiqah

W. Madelung, Hisham b. Hakam in Encyclopedia of Islam III (Leiden: Brill, 2nd ed.,
1979), 496-498.
See: M. Ayoub, Divine Preordination and Human Hope: A Study of the Concept
of Bada in Imami Shii Tradition in Journal of the American Oriental Society CVI, no. 4
(Oct. - Dec., 1986).
See: B. Abrahamov, Al-Kasim Ibn Ibrahims Theory of the Imamate, in Arabica
XXXIV, no. 1 (Mar., 1987).
See: E. Kohlberg, From Imamiyya to Ithna-Ashariyya, in Bulletin of the School of
Oriental and African Studies XXXIX, no. 3 (1976).
See: T. Bayhom-Daou, The Imams Knowledge and the Quran according to al-Fadl
ibn Shadhan al-Nisaburi (d. 260 A.H./874 A.D.) in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and
African Studies LXIV, no. 2 (2001).
See: H. Modarressi, Crisis and Consolidation (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1993).
Ahmad ibn Abbas al-Najashi, Rijal al-Najashi (Qum: Muassasat al-Nashr al-Islami,
1407 AH), 433; Abu al-Qasim al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith (Najaf: Markaz Nashr al-
Thiqafah al-Islamiyyah, 1992), no. 13358.
Al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
Abu Jafar al-Tusi, Fihrist (Muassasat al-Nashr al-Fiqahah, 1417 AH), 259.

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

Al-Najashi, Rijal al-Najashi, 433.
Al-Tusi, Fihrist, 259.
Abu Amr al-Kashshi, Ikhtiyar Marifat al-Rijal (Mashhad: University of Mashhad,
1404 AH), 255; al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13,358.
Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Baghdadi (al-Shaykh al-Mufid),
Kitab al-Irshad II (Beirut: Muassasat Al al-Bayt li-Tahqiq al-Turath, 1993), 194: Hisham is
described as a young man (ghulam) with the first lines of a beard on his cheeks (awwal
ma ikhtatta aridahu).
Al-Najashi, Rijal al-Najashi, 433.
See Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari VI (Leiden: Brill,
n.d.), 484 for his account of al-Rashids execution of Jafar ibn Yahya al-Barmaki.
Al-Tusi, Fihrist, 259.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
Extremists who attributed divinity to the Imams; see: Modarressi, Crisis and
Consolidation, 21.
Those who stopped at a particular Imam and did not recognise his successor, see:
ibid., 60.
Abu Jafar al-Tusi, Rijal al-Shaykh al-Tusi (Qum: Muassasat al-Nashr al-Islami, 1415
AH), 241.
See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 7898.
See Ibid., no. 13358. For more on the Jahmites, see Shahrastani, Al-Milal wa al-
Nihal, I (Beirut: Dar al-Maarif, n.d.), 86.
Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I (Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islami, 1388
AH), 87: Nadr ibn Suwayd from Hisham himself: Hisham studied the derivation of the
names of God with al-Sadiq, who asked have you understood, Hisham, in such a way
that you can defeat our opponents who take with Allah other than Him? to which
Hisham replied in the affirmative. Al-Sadiq then said: May God avail you and establish
you Hisham! See also al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13,358, where he is recorded
as having asked five hundred issues [harf] of kalam from al-Sadiq in Mina.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 171.
Ibid., 72: Ali ibn Mansur narrates from Hisham himself.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
See Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim, Fihrist Ibn al-Nadim, ed. Rida Tajjadud (n.p.,
n.d.) 223; for a complete list of his writings
Abdullah ibn Yazid al-Ibadi: possibly the founder of the Ibadi school of the
Kharijites. See: Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan III (Beirut: al-Muassasat al-Alami
lil-Matbuat, 1971), 248.
Darar ibn Amr al-Dibbi: the eponymous founder of the Darariyyah; a sub-sect of
Mutazilites that amongst other things claimed that God was knowing and powerful
insofar as he was not ignorant or impotent and denied the punishment of the grave (see
Shahrastani, Al-Milal wa al-Nihal I, 90). Al-Dibbis birth and death are unknown, but he
was alive in the time of al-Rashid and was a judge. He was accused of heresy (zindiqah)
and forced to go into hiding. See Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Amr ibn Musa ibn

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

Hammad al-Aqili, Duafa al-Kabir II (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1997), 222; al-
Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan III, 203; Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, 214.
Amr ibn Ubayd ibn Bab (d. 144): a shaykh of the Qadarites and Mutazilites. See
Jamal al-Din Abu al-Hajjaj al-Mazzi, Tahdhib al-Kamal XXII (Baghdad: University of
Baghdad, 1985), 123; al-Dhahabi, Sayyar Alam al-Nubala VI (Beirut: Muassasat al-
Risalah, 1993), 104; Abu Yahya al-Murtada, Tabaqat al-Mutazilah (Beirut: n.p., 1987), 35.
Abu Ubaydah Muammar ibn al-Muthanna al-Tamimi (b. 120): a Mutazilite from
Basrah, several books are attributed to him on majaz al-Quran (the inimitability of the
Quran), gharib al-hadith (unusual hadith), the killing of Uthman, and the history of al-
Hajjaj. See: al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad XIII (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, n.d.),
Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Sayyar al-Nazzam: a student of Wasil ibn Ata and
prominent Mutazilite. See: Abu Yahya, Tabaqat al-Mutazilah, 49.
Yahya ibn Khalid al-Barmaki (b. 120): vizier to the Abbasid Caliph Mansur. See
Tabari, Tarikh VIII 287.
One of these works was authored in response to Hisham ibn Salim al-Jawaliqi,
another disciple of al-Sadiq. See Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, 223.
For examples of these debates see: Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-
Baghdadi (al-Shaykh al-Mufid), Al-Ikhtisas (Qum: Jamiat al-Mudarrisin, n.d.), 96; al-
Sharif al-Murtada, Al-Fusul al-Mukhtarah (Beirut: Dar al-Mufid, 1993), 9, 268; Abu Jafar
Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Babawayh al-Qummi (al-Shaykh al-Saduq), Kamal al-Din II
(Qum: Muassasat al-Nashr al-Islami, 1405 AH), 362; al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 169, 172; al-
Khawarizmi, Al-Manaqib (Qum: Muassasat al-Nashr al-Islami, 1411 AH), 236, 270, 276.
Al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
He was a prominent companion of Imams Ali ibn Musa al-Rida and Muhammad
ibn Ali al-Jawad and deputy of Imams Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi and Hassan ibn
Muhammad al-Askari, a theologian and a jurist. See: al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith,
no. 4,301.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
It could be this school that Shahrastani was referring to when he dubbed the
followers of Hisham the Hishamiyyah. See al-Milal wa al-Nihal I, 148.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13,358.
Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Babawayh al-Qummi (al-Shaykh al-Saduq), al-
Tawhid (Qum: Jamiat al-Mudarrisin, n.d.), 104
See al-Najashi, Rijal, 433 and Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, 224 for a full list of his written
Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, 223.
Al-Tusi, Fihrist, 258: The Four Hundred Usul are notebooks of hadiths recorded by
the companions of different Imams from the Imams themselves.
M. Amin, Ayan al-Shiah X (Beirut: Dar al-Taaruf lil-Matbuat, n.d.), 264.
Al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan V, 301.
Perhaps this notion is connected to bada or a change in Gods knowledge, an idea
whose origin in mainstream Shiism is attributed to this period. See: Modarressi, Crisis
and Consolidation, 58.

Hisham ibn al-Hakam: Arch-Heretic? Alexander Hainy Khaleeli

Al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan VI 194. These are largely identical to the accusations
made by Ibn Hazm, see: I. Friedlaender, The Heterodoxies of the Shiites in the
Presentation of Ibn Hazm, in Journal of the American Oriental Society XXVIII (1907).
For example, a narration from Hisham in which al-Sadiq states (at great length)
that God would be able to place the whole universe in an egg shell without breaking the
shell or shrinking the universe. See: Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 79. The kind of analogy
contained in this tradition may have offended the sensibilities of some theologians.
Al-Sharif al-Murtada, Al-Shafi fi al-Imamah I (Tehran: Muassasat al-Sadiq, 1410 AH),
See R. C. Martin, The Role of the Basrah Mutazilah in Formulating the Doctrine
of the Apologetic Miracle, in Journal of Near Eastern Studies XXXIX, no. 3 (1980).
Bada for example, was a feature of classical Shia theology. See Abu Jafar
Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Babawayh al-Qummi (al-Shaykh al-Saduq), Itiqad fi Din al-
Imamiyyah (Qum: Dar ul-Mufid, 1414 AH).
His name also appears Muhammad ibn al-Hakam. He was a companion of al-
Sadiq and al-Kazim from whom are narrated reports in the works of a-Kulayni, al-
Saduq, and al-Tusi. Not much else is known about him. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-
Hadith, no. 11,608 where one of the narrators in the chain leading to Muhammad ibn al-
Hakim is Ali ibn al-Abbas, an extremist.
A companion of al-Rida, al-Jawad, and al-Hadi, considered trustworthy by al-
Kashshi, al-Najashi, and al-Tusi. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 11,650.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 104, for both narrations.
He is Ali ibn Abu Hamzah al-Bataini, a follower of al-Sadiq and al-Kazim, who
became a Waqifite (i.e. someone who stopped at Kazim and did not acknowledge al-
Rida after him) after the latters death. He is credited with being one of the first to
espouse the doctrines of the Waqifites. Ibn al-Ghadairi curses him and says he was the
most extreme in enmity towards al-Rida. However, material is still narrated from him
in the four books of Hadith central to Twelver Shiism. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-
Hadith, no. 7,846.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 104.
A companion of al-Sadiq, accused of extremism in his beliefs (ghuluw) and of
narrating amongst other things strange stories about the supernatural powers of the
Imams. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 14,640.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 105.
A companion of al-Rida, who narrated from Ali ibn Abu Hamzah al-Bataini (see
above). Not much is known about him. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 3,225.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 105 in this hadith the narrator identifies Abu al-Hasan (the
kunyah of al-Rida) as Musa ibn Jafar. Perhaps there has been a mistake either on the
part of a narrator or a copier of the text. It seems likely that al-Rida is meant here as the
narrator is known to be his companion and not that of al-Kazim. See al-Khui, Mujam
Rijal al-Hadith, no. 3,225.
It does not seem likely that these accusations are dated back to Hishams time as a
jahmi, or student, of Abu Shakir because if the accounts are to be believed Hisham
was very young when he came to al-Sadiq.
See: al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 171, where Hisham attributes his kalam to the teachings
of the Imams.
Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi I, 105.

Journal of Shia Islamic Studies Summer 2010 Vol. III No. 3

Al-Murtada, Al-Shafi fi al-Imamah I, 83-85.
For a summary of this period see Modarressi, Crisis and Consolidation, 60-62.
Al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13,358.
A companion of al-Sadiq, al-Kazim and (after some hesitation, it seems) al-Rida,
considered very reliable by the classical experts of Hadith. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-
Hadith, no. 8013.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
These narrations are all provided by al-Kashshi, Ikhtiyar Marifat al-Rijal, 255-280.
See for instance one claiming that he shared in the blood (sharakah fi damm) of al-
Kazim and one using the exact phrase saying that he didnt. The narration from
Abd al-Rahman says that Hisham was like a slaughterer (dhubh), another again with
the same word says that he wasnt.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
He is a companion of al-Kazim; see al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 5,453.
One of the narrators of this hadith, Muhammad ibn Isa al-Hamdani, is considered
a fabricator and one of the Ghulat. See al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 12970.
Cited in al-Khui, Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 13358.
A companion of al-Jawad, considered trustworthy by al-Tusi (see al-Tusi, Rijal, 375,
A Fathite (i.e. those who acknowledged Abdullah al-Aftah as an Imam between al-
Sadiq and al-Kazim) and companion of al-Kazim, al-Rida, and al-Jawad. See al-Khui,
Mujam Rijal al-Hadith, no. 9590.